On Monday, the GT Association, promoter and sanctioning body of the Autobacs Super GT Series, published the updated – and completed – entry list of teams and drivers for the 2017 Super GT season, with all 45 teams and 90 drivers that are expected to participate in the series on a full-time basis this season.
The final eleven seats that had yet to be filled on the GT300 grid – including some from a few prolific teams – have now been filled, two weeks before the start of the first official pre-season test at Okayama International Circuit. It includes four rookie drivers, in a group headlined by defending Porsche Supercup champion Sven Müller joining D’Station Racing.
First, there are the incumbent drivers from 2016 who will retain their seats in 2017. Both JLOC Lamborghini Huracán GT3s will retain their driver lineups of Manabu “MAX” Orido and Kazuki Hiramine in the #88 ManePa Lamborghini, and Shinya Hosokawa and Kimiya Sato in the #87 Shop Channel Lamborghini – note the new title sponsor for the latter, a prolific home shopping television network.
Orido is a two-time GT300 champion and one of the legends of the series, Hiramine is the reigning Super Taikyu ST-X Champion, Hosokawa was runner-up in the 2006 GT500 championship, and Sato is a former Auto GP World Series champion.
Dijon Racing return the lineup they started 2016 with: Affable journeyman Hiroshi Takamori and co-driver Masaki Tanaka in the #48 Nissan GT-R. With no title sponsor announced, there may be a new look inbound for the car affectionately known as “Pink-zilla” last season.
Finally, at Tomei Sports, four-time All-Japan Gymkhana champion Yusaku Shibata takes back the second seat in the #360 RunUp Sports Nissan GT-R, alongside RunUp president Atsushi Tanaka.
Then there are the four rookies, and the identity revealed of the Porsche Motorsport factory driver that will join Tomonobu Fujii in the #33 D’Station Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R: 25-year-old Sven Müller of Germany, who was a double champion of the two most prestigious one-make Porsche championships in 2016 – the Porsche Supercup and the Porsche Carrera Cup Germany.
Müller was promoted to factory driver status at Porsche in November 2016, just after taking both the PCC Germany and Supercup crowns. He effectively replaces Jörg Bergmeister, who drove for the team formerly known as Excellence Porsche Team KTR last season.
Team Mach will have two new drivers in 2017, replacing one of the oldest lineups on the grid with the youngest, both drivers 21 years old.
The first is Natsu Sakaguchi, a former Honda Formula Dream Project (HFDP) prospect who makes his return to racing for the first time since 2015. A protegé of Ryo Michigami, Sakaguchi was a decorated champion in karting, even attracting the attention of ART Grand Prix and All Road Management early on in his career.
The second is Kiyoto Fujinami, who turns 22 next month, and is an alumni of the Nissan Driver Development Program (NDDP). Fujinami drove for GTNET Motor Sports in Super Taikyu’s ST-X category in 2015 and 2016.
Both Sakaguchi and Fujinami, a Honda prospect and a Nissan prospect respectively, will now drive a Dome Racing-built Toyota 86 MC in their Super GT debuts.
Finally, 22-year-old Jake Parsons of Sydney, Australia, joins Shinnosuke Yamada in an all-new driver lineup for the #26 Team Taisan SARD Audi R8.
Parsons was runner-up in the 2015 Formula Master China series – the same that graduated Ferrari third driver Antonio Giovinazzi into Europe. In 2016, Parsons moved to America to contest the Pro Mazda Championship, finishing sixth in the championship standings.
With those names present, there are a few notable absences from the grid as it stands now. Former GT300 champions André Couto, Naoki Yokomizo, and Takayuki Aoki, former GT500 champion Masami Kageyama, and former undefeated Porsche Carrera Cup Japan champion Hideto Yasuoka are among the notables that do not have a seat, or even a test drive heading into 2017.
Former PCCJ champion Yuya Motojima will test for JLOC at Okayama, while Naoya Yamano, who was an impressive 10th in last year’s GT300 championship, will test for LM Corsa in their #51 Lexus RC F GT3 at the same event.